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A Wrong Diagnosis Drove Me Insane, Then Fixed My Mindset

We are thrilled to have guest writer, Sarah Sniderman, this week! She holds a Masters of Human Resources from the University of Toronto and has worked in areas including total rewards, employee engagement and wellness. For a decade, she has struggled and functioned, then struggled again with depression, anxiety and binge eating. She describes herself as an analytical dreamer on her personal blog, Conscientious Introvert.

Profile 2014-05-20 2Eating sweets was a longtime coping crutch, leading me to being miserable and 65 pounds overweight. And boy, did I need help coping! I have been through the deep, dark depression lows and days in bed where I was unable to shower or even answer the phone. I’ve gone as far as losing my job due to mental illness and physical exhaustion.

My psychiatrist believed I had Binge Eating Disorder because I would regularly spend a few days to a few weeks with near daily binge episodes. It wasn’t uncommon for me to consume 3,000 calories of ice cream and chocolate in a sitting.

As the classic yo-yo story goes, I interspersed periods of binging with (smaller) periods of dieting. I have, at times, gone a week or two eating 1,200 calories or less, trying to avoid sugar completely. I happily obsessed until it wasn’t distracting enough anymore, leading back to good ol’ faithful binge eating as an escape from reality. My psychiatrist referred me to a hospital outpatient eating disorder program. From the very first meeting, my anxiety amped up immensely.

The most uncomfortable experience of the program was eating dinner with fellow participants. Meals requiring “high energy” desserts were inspected before and after, and not even a “yum” was allowed because there was no talking about food. In fact, there was no gum, no bathroom, no numbers, no details, no leftovers, not much of anything but talking about feelings. The meal plan felt not only like just another diet of restraint, but also one I hadn’t even chosen for myself.

In eating disorder treatment, I didn’t perceive others to trust my ability to take care of myself and even worse, I felt I was proving everybody right by desperately devouring every “trigger food” I could think of for weeks on end. I couldn’t stop thinking about food. I was constantly holding my breath, thoughts racing, feeling sick, heavy and so very tired. And yet the only solution that seemed to relieve enough in the moment was more food.

Confused and frustrated, I started reading 15 library books at a time on disordered eating and committed to deep self-reflection. I had to be honest with myself: I had issues with mood and eating and they were getting worse with treatment for an eating disorder.

Though I didn’t remain in the program long, the experience propelled me to take action in a new way. I began to look inward for guidance rather than seeking the best expert out there. I learned I am the expert on myself. I paid attention to what gave me the results I wanted: energy, satiety, health, beauty, and, yes, pleasure. I prepared to have those foods accessible and practiced eating satisfying quantities.

I connected with my true motivations. While being healthy and looking good were certainly top priority, they weren’t strong enough to keep me going in tough times. The reason I wanted a smaller waist was in fact to move with agility and vitality. And regardless of my weight, I didn’t want to regularly eat when I wasn’t hungry because it numbed me to life experiences. Furthermore, the expectation that a slender me would be more easily accepted by others was unrealistic. There were better ways to feel accepted.

I built one healthy habit at a time, action leading to action. First, I committed to 30 minutes of activity every day. After a week of proud checkmarks, I moved on to starting the day with a nutritious meal. Next, I tracked my mood and hunger levels when I ate. Instead of counting calories, I gained insight into trends. For instance, I realized I felt compelled to binge after a stressful event — after points where I thought I “needed” it. I learned to instead calm down and express relief with a bath, walking or writing.

I allowed myself to feel proud about progress and kind about mistakes. I accepted that I felt disappointed and frustrated sometimes. I had thoughts of self-pity and rebellion, gradually learning to keep them at a more objective distance. Knowing some situations were more difficult than others, I advised other people in advance of how they could help by giving me non-judgmental space.

When urges to binge flooded over me, I slowed down, stopped, observed and questioned the urge. I related the consequences to my beliefs and values. If I was actually feeling tired, I decided to sleep, exercise, drink water or even coffee rather than sugary processed foods. If I was actually bored or stressed, I fed that need. Sometimes all it took was setting a timer for 30 minutes and distracting myself with a new book in a new location until the irrational craving faded.

Self-soothing with food worked in the past, but it doesn’t serve me anymore. It’s short-term and compounds negative feelings. Eating disorder treatments work for others, but it did not suit me. It felt rigid and joyless. Both approaches seemed to make me feel worse — I see now I needed them to get to where I am now. Even still 20 pounds overweight, I am able to appreciate my body and take care of it well.

I like that I’m able to self-comfort with food, but more often now I choose better ways to self-nurture. Day by day, I’m learning to deal with problems separately from eating for hunger and pleasure. I know my needs and myself better than ever.

Slimming Progress

With a sense of peace, I’ll gladly grow through struggles and triumphs for the rest of my life. —Sarah

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